Lesson Plans

The Magic of Three: Techniques for the Writer's Craft

4 - 8
Estimated Time
One 30-minute session
  • Preview
  • |
  • Standards
  • |
  • Resources & Preparation
  • |
  • Instructional Plan
  • |
  • Related Resources
  • |
  • Comments


There's something about our English language that lends itself to threes. Putting words and ideas in a group of three can add rhythm and cadence to the sound of the language and add inspiration and passion to the message. Benjamin Franklin once wrote, “Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn.” Not only was this a worthy sentiment, it was also a powerful rhetorical technique. A series of three parallel words, phrases, or clauses is known as a tricolon in literary parlance. In intermediate classrooms, we call it the Magic of Three. Tricolons are easy to read, easy to say, and easy to remember. See what I mean? In this lesson, students will learn how to apply this useful writing technique to make their writing more engaging, fluent, and rhythmical.

From Theory to Practice

This resource offers research on process writing and the writer's craft as well as a range of minilessons for helping students write with more clarity and style.
This book contains a theoretical framework and practical teaching ideas for organizing a year's writing program around six key text forms: personal narrative, fictional narrative, informational report, opinion piece, poetry and procedure.

Common Core Standards

This resource has been aligned to the Common Core State Standards for states in which they have been adopted. If a state does not appear in the drop-down, CCSS alignments are forthcoming.

State Standards

This lesson has been aligned to standards in the following states. If a state does not appear in the drop-down, standard alignments are not currently available for that state.

NCTE/IRA National Standards for the English Language Arts

  • 3. Students apply a wide range of strategies to comprehend, interpret, evaluate, and appreciate texts. They draw on their prior experience, their interactions with other readers and writers, their knowledge of word meaning and of other texts, their word identification strategies, and their understanding of textual features (e.g., sound-letter correspondence, sentence structure, context, graphics).
  • 4. Students adjust their use of spoken, written, and visual language (e.g., conventions, style, vocabulary) to communicate effectively with a variety of audiences and for different purposes.
  • 5. Students employ a wide range of strategies as they write and use different writing process elements appropriately to communicate with different audiences for a variety of purposes.
  • 6. Students apply knowledge of language structure, language conventions (e.g., spelling and punctuation), media techniques, figurative language, and genre to create, critique, and discuss print and nonprint texts.
  • 12. Students use spoken, written, and visual language to accomplish their own purposes (e.g., for learning, enjoyment, persuasion, and the exchange of information).

Materials and Technology

  • Interactive whiteboard, flip chart, or overhead projector

  • Computers with Internet




  1. Familiarize yourself with the literary technique of the tricolon and how it is used.

  2. Gather a collection of examples of tricolons from literature or popular culture (e.g., political speeches) or use those provided in this lesson. Prepare these for display to students.

  3. If you would like to use Barack Obama's Victory Speech as an example of writing with Magic of Three, familiarize yourself with the text. (Barack Obama’s Secret for Stirring a Crowd is for teacher use only and will help in identifying the words, sentences, and phrases in threes.) You may choose to make a hard copy of the victory speech for display or bookmark the site for student use, as it has a video as well as the text.

  4. Reproduce the Magic of Three Sentence Frames to display for shared or interactive writing. Be prepared with some ideas of your own if students have trouble contributing ideas.

  5. Make a copy of the Song of the Seasons printout for each student or pair of students to be used as guided writing practice. Take time to try the technique yourself before asking students to do it.

Student Objectives

  • Demonstrate an understanding of tricolons through whole-group and small-group discussions

  • Learn how to craft words and phrases in groups of three for rhythm and power by creating tricolons within a defined framework

  • Demonstrate an understanding of the Magic of Three by drafting or revising an independent writing piece that contains tricolons

Whole-Group Instruction

  1. Display the following samples of tricolons from famous texts (or find some of your own).

    • “Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn." (Benjamin Franklin)

    • "Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” (US Declaration of Independence)

    • “Peace, order and good government” (Canadian Constitution Act)

    • “A happy life is one spent in learning, earning, and yearning.” (actress Lillian Gish)

    • "Government of the people, by the people, for the people." (Abraham Lincoln)

  2. Tell students that each of these quotes is an example of Magic of Three. Writers (and speakers) often put three words, ideas, or groups of words together to make writing sound more rhythmical and to convey images or ideas more effectively. Tell students that in this lesson, they will learn to use the Magic of Three to make their writing sound more interesting and rhythmical.

  3. Point out to students the pattern in the first example by Benjamin Franklin. Each of the three parts is a complete sentence with the same structure: _________ me and I _____________. One of the things that makes Magic of Three magical is that each of the three parts should be of the same length and structure. Invite students to turn and talk to a partner about the common structures in the other samples.

  4. As a class, discuss the students' observations. Point out that there is a comma between each of the items in the group of three (unless it is three sentences, in which case there is a period after each, of course). You will need to decide whether or not you want to teach the serial comma before and.

  5. Read the phrases aloud together and listen for the rhythm of the language. Tell students that another part of the "magic" is how the words sound together. Try to read each phrase, changing the order of the words, such as "life, the pursuit of happiness, and liberty." That doesn't have the same musical quality as the original.

Guided Practice

You may want to choose only one of the guided practice activities to keep the lesson short and allow more time for student writing, or you can conduct the activities on separate days.

  1. Together, read Barack Obama's Victory Speech. (This text may be too difficult for some of your students to read on their own, so you may want to read it aloud and have students follow along.) Have students identify examples of Magic of Three and discuss how this technique affected both the sound and the emotional impact of the speech.

  2. Distribute or display the Magic of Three Sentence Frames. Use shared writing (students contribute ideas while teacher scribes) or interactive writing (students compose collaboratively and take turns writing) to complete each of the sentences with interesting images and ideas. Encourage students to try the words and phrases in different sequences to listen for the most rhythmical patterns. Obviously, expectations for the sophistication of the language used will vary with the developmental level of the students. Teachers may wish to create sentence frames of their own to meet the needs of their students.

  3. Have students work individually or in pairs to complete the Song of the Seasons printout using Magic of Three phrases.

Independent Practice

Students should select a piece of writing from their own writing folders to revise or incorporate into a new piece of writing an example of the Magic of Three.


  • Encourage students to be aware of Magic of Three in the texts that they read, and discuss the impact this technique has on the way they respond to the reading.

  • Brainstorm out-of-class but in-school opportunities (like student elections or debate team) where students can use the Magic of Three for fluency and impact. Encourage students to incorporate the Magic of Three when possible in these opportunities.

Student Assessment / Reflections

  • Observe students' contributions to whole-group discussions and guided practice activities to informally assess general understanding of the technique of Magic of Three.

  • Observe students working in groups and assess the guided practice pieces on Song of the Seasons to evaluate individual students' ability to apply the technique. Remind students of the following criteria:

    1. The words or phrases must be the same length and pattern or structure.

    2. The words or phrases must convey a key image or idea.

    3. The order of the words should flow smoothly and rhythmically.

    4. There should be a comma between each word or phrase.

  • Evaluate students’ independent writing revisions using the Magic of Three Rubric.